The Menace of Comic-Con

Everything you need to know about what's wrong with the movie industry can be found on the cover of the issue of Entertainment Weekly that's currently on the stands.

It's less the appearance of Ryan Reynolds as Green Lantern (hot diggity, another comic-book movie -- can't wait) than the fact that EW has, essentially, given over the entire issue to Comic-Con, which is this coming weekend in San Diego and whose ripples will be felt for the entire year to come.

I'm not quite sure how we reached a point where Comic-Con became the engine that drives Hollywood, but that is absolutely the case. Disney buys Marvel, films like Green Lantern and Green Hornet and The Avengers slurp up the studio bucks -- and the comic-book mentality grows like a cancer, in audiences and at movie studios.

Once upon a time, comic-book conventions -- like Star Trek conventions -- were the Land of the Dweebs, the home of the socially maladjusted and a surefire punchline for comedians. But these days, Comic-Con has become the kind of obligatory stop for the studios and TV networks that the CPAC convention is to conservative politicians or the NAACP convention is for liberal ones. It's a prerequisite for success, a see-and-be-seen gathering at which the agenda for the coming year seemingly is set in stone.

A strong showing at Comic-Con bodes well for a film or TV show's prospects. A weak showing spells potential doom, given the viral capability of the infinite number of bloggers who descend on Comic-Con, like 49ers to the gold rush (and to whom William Shatner famously urged, "Get a life," in a Saturday Night Live sketch years back).

What's missing, however, is any sense of proportion or context. This is Comic-Con -- a fantasy convention for people whose lives are devoted to reading comic books and other forms of speculative fiction. The studios and TV networks are lining up to kiss the collective ass of exactly the crowd that has turned the movie industry into a special-effects factory making prefab product so undistinguished that Iron Man 2 looks like a work of genius (to some critics).

These are, after all, comic-book movies (or sci-fi, horror or fantasy films that reach the same audience). Their audience is young and undiscriminating (in the sense that they still believe The Dark Knight was the shizzit) -- and they somehow have taken over the thinking of the people who control the purse strings in Hollywood.

A steady diet of comic-book and zombie and other fantasy movies is like a steady diet of Big Macs for the mind and soul. Unfortunately, no one will ever make the Super-Size Me revealing the brain-deadening effects that overconsumption of these films is having. Yet it's out there, slowly stripping audiences of their ability to focus on anything that doesn't distract them with big flashes and booms and superpowers and the like. It's a self-fulfilling prophecy, in which feeding this particular beast allows it ultimately to consume all our brains, and take over the culture.

Ah, Comic-Con: the tail that wags the entertainment dog. Would that we were able to brutally crop that particular tail. Instead, it's being celebrated on the cover of Entertainment Weekly, as though it isn't yet another harbinger of what is destroying movies that make you think and feel something other than the brief endorphin rush of cheap thrills.